Some moments in the deer woods will change you forever.
It’s interesting how a hunter evolves, especially when, as in my case, that evolution is a direct parallel to the maturation of the individual. I believe that one season, one hunt, one harvest or even one moment can influence a hunter and change his perspective on the sport forever.
I experienced that kind of moment on the third day of the 2001 Michigan rifle season. I was 22 at the time and in my eighth season of rifle hunting. I had taken a few big bucks, including one semi-irregular 11-pointer that has a composite BTR score of 145 inches, but I was still in the stage where deer season started with baiting in October and I sat in the same stand I had used since I was 14 and shot the first 2½-year-old or better antlered deer that came my way. I wanted to be the first one at camp to shoot a buck and even felt a twinge of envy if someone else harvested a big deer.
That all changed on the 17th day of that November season in 2001. It was a warm, rainy and wet morning, and it was all I could do to stay in my stand until 8:30. My setup is high on a ridge overlooking a river valley and a massive riverbend that forms a peninsula of land flanked by clay banks.
The steep banks force the deer to either cross the river and move directly below me or climb the ridge and come within 50 yards to either side of my stand. It’s a perfect natural deer funnel that had produced results many times. Normally I would have stayed on the ridge until at least 10:30, but I was disgusted that I hadn’t seen a buck for three days and was annoyed at the unseasonably warm and rainy weather. I decided to head back to camp to rest.
Camp is the Left-Hook Lodge, aptly named after more than one argument was settled with a round or two of fisticuffs. It’s a two-room stick shack built by my grandfather and father in 1985 on county land. There isn’t quite enough room for the eight of us who stay there and hunt the surrounding public land, but we know we have it pretty good nevertheless.
The camp is nestled near a creek that winds around a series of beautiful ridges and small hills not far from the Michigan-Wisconsin border. I made it back just before 9:00. I hadn’t been there five minutes before my younger brother, Ross, who was 17 at the time, walked through the front door and calmly said, “I think I shot a nice one.”
Still disgusted with not seeing any bucks, I remarked, “How big?”
Ross mumbled something about not being sure and then proceeded to explain that he didn’t see the buck fall, nor did he check for first blood. I shot him a skeptical glance before we jumped on the four-wheelers and headed to his stand.
Ross’ stand was about a mile west of mine on the same ridge. After the three-mile ride, we parked the machines and headed toward where he said he last saw the buck.
About 50 yards from the spot Ross last saw the deer, I stepped over the trunk of a large aspen windfall and saw the back and swollen neck of my brother’s buck. It was piled up in a clump of saplings, and I quickly noticed the left side of the rack — a massive, dark main beam with impressive tine length. I ran to the deer, turned to my brother in amazement and simply stared at him. Ross and I looked at one another without saying a word.
We immediately realized how incredible the animal was, and both our lives changed as we looked at one another and grinned. Just by the sight of that magnificent animal, two brothers and young outdoorsmen had gained a respect for white-tailed deer we had ever imagined. Ross had harvested the biggest buck I had ever seen in person and the largest ever killed by a member of our camp. The buck has a massive typical 10-point rack with P2s and P3s of more than 10 inches. It also has unique, twisted brow tines. The chocolate-colored rack has bases of more than 5 inches and a BTR composite score over 160.
I quickly snapped out of my state of amazement and thought about my father and how excited and proud of Ross he was going to be. Our father, a very successful deer hunter, had given us a wealth of information about whitetails, hunting and the woods in general. We knew Dad was still-hunting the ridge between our stands and would probably be arriving at Ross’ stand any minute.
We decided to field-dress the buck and wait for Dad. As I worked, Ross punched his tag and I asked him a hundred questions about the hunt. He excitedly recalled the entire sequence of events, right down to when he confidently took the 75-yard shot with his Remington .30-06. I told him how proud I was that he made the shot on such an impressive buck.
At about 10 a.m., looking through the big maples, aspen and hemlocks, we saw Dad sneaking down the ridge. He quickly noticed the scene below and knew Ross had shot a buck. As we watched him climb down through the timber, neither of us spoke. We simply looked at each other with huge grins on our faces in anticipation of his re-action when he laid eyes on the deer.
Most men know about the frequent tension that exists between fathers and sons. Add to that the normal squabbles between two brothers, and you can assume our little trio had its share of arguments. But on that day, at that moment, when my father approached the two young men he’d raised and mentored, the tensions vanished.
After Ross told Dad the details and we again examined the buck, the moment turned emotional. My father’s pride in his sons, my brother’s triumph, and the fact that all three of us were there to share it brought everything together for me. Even though I was not the successful hunter that day, I took more from that moment than Dad or Ross. I grew up right then and there. I became a better son, a better brother and a better person. I suddenly understood a father’s love, a little brother’s determination to gain respect, and how important hunting actually was to me.
One other important thing happened that day. I knew without a doubt that whitetail hunting was the one activity that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
I began to read countless books and articles — anything I could get my hands on. I started scouting potential stand sites in the spring and continued through summer and early fall. I began to track weather patterns and learned the correlations those patterns have with deer movement and activity. I researched scent control and began to practice strict scent control techniques.
Since that day, I have made quite a bit of progress toward becoming the deer hunter I want to be. I’ve learned quite a bit and have had some success, culminating in last year’s archery buck, a typical 150-inch BTR 11-pointer harvested on my own property.
For me, deer hunting is the ultimate challenge. To be successful consistently takes organization, dedication and extreme patience. But the greatest thing about the sport is that each hunt is different. There’s no way you can anticipate what you might encounter during a hunt, nor what you might come to understand about life.
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This article was published in the August 2009 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.